Singapore, Malaysia agree to suspend implementation of overlapping port limits

Video screenshot of a Malaysian vessel intruding into Singapore territorial waters. (Credit: Mindef)

Singapore and Malaysia agreed on Thursday (14 March) to suspend the implementation of their overlapping port limits following a meeting between the two countries’ foreign affairs ministers.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah met his Singapore counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in Putrajaya, Malaysia on the same day, the ministers said in a joint statement. The meeting was a follow up from their previous meeting in Singapore on 8 January where they stated their commitment to resolve the maritime issues surrounding the port limits of both countries.

The ministers discussed the Working Group’s report on maritime issues surrounding the overlapping Johor Bahru Port Limits off Tanjung Piai and Singapore Port Limits off Tuas, which was submitted by officials from their foreign ministries.

They commended the work of the Working Group and were pleased to note the positive progress that has been made by the Working Group.

Malaysia and Singapore shall implement the following five recommendations in the report with effect from Thursday:

a) To mutually suspend the implementation of their overlapping port limits and apply their port limits in effect prior to 25 October 2018 and 6 December 2018 respectively;

b) To not authorise and to suspend all commercial activities in the area;

c) To not anchor government vessels in the area; and

d) For Malaysia and Singapore vessels to operate in the area in accordance with international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The relevant agencies on both sides will work out practical modalities to avoid untoward incidents in the area;

e) To establish a committee chaired by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore for boundary delimitation which will ensure implementation of the first four recommendations within one month, and that negotiations for maritime boundary delimitation in the area will commence within one month following such implementation.

The measures to be undertaken by both countries shall be without prejudice to their respective maritime boundary claims in the area.

In the event that the committee is unable to reach an amicable solution on delimitation, Malaysia and Singapore may agree to seek an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure.

Saifuddin and Dr Balakrishnan agreed that the measures were vital to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and pave the way for maritime boundary delimitation of the area.

The measures also underscore the commitment of both countries to work together to preserve the bilateral relationship, and to resolve bilateral issues amicably in accordance with international law.

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